You Should Be Listening To: Serial

Serial

Looking for your next show to binge-watch? How about a binge-listen?

We’re venturing into new territory here on Becca on Broadway: the land of podcasts. I’m pretty new to the experience, having only been introduced in September, but now I cannot get enough. Today we focus on one in particular.

If you’re a regular podcast listener, then you likely already know alllll about Serial, which is currently the top station. It’s a spinoff of This American Life, the popular public radio show hosted by Ira Glass. Each episode of TAL has a theme and is typically split into three acts as we hear different peoples’ stories (it was also a television series on Showtime back in 2006). Serial began in September, coincidentally right after I started subscribing to the podcast world. Sarah Koenig, a journalist and producer of TAL, is the host and executive producer. The primary difference between the two podcasts is that Serial focuses on one nonfiction story over the course of the whole season, each episode diving deeper and deeper into the details. There have been nine so far, ranging from 30-45 minutes each (it’s still TBD how many episodes there will be).

This first season is about a murder case from 1999. A Baltimore high schooler named Hae Min Lee was strangled, and her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison not long after her body was found. Fifteen years later, Adnan is an inmate at a Maryland correctional facility. But when we start to look into the case against him, it’s not the most clear-cut. Between the conflicting testimonies, confusing phone records, and lack of follow-through on examining the evidence, how sure are we that Adnan was rightfully convicted of this crime?

Not to say that’s all the podcast is about. Sarah Koenig isn’t just trying to prove Adnan’s innocence. He very well may be guilty (many listeners firmly believe he is), but either way, Sarah ultimately wants to get to the bottom of it. So she starts from scratch and is now reviewing the case piece by piece all these years later. This leads to many new mysteries as she interviews friends, family, and witnesses from the winter of 1999 – kids who are now grown adults. We also get to know Adnan, as Sarah has weekly phone conversations with him in prison.

Honestly, no matter what I say it won’t begin to cover how compelling this story is. I don’t know how they do it, but every episode is better than the last. Listeners are incredibly invested in this case, and it’s actually easy to forget sometimes that it’s real life. These are not characters in a movie. This isn’t a mystery novel. This is a tragedy that really happened which took one girl’s life and forever shaped her classmates’ futures. Episodes cover all kinds of emotions. I’ve had friends text me about crying on the subway as they listen. I’m pretty sure I often look stunned, with my mouth hanging open, as I listen on my commute.

Along with the captivating evidence reveals, testimonies, and recordings from the trials, Sarah is also a fantastic host. She’s riveting and relatable. We are going along on this journey with her, and she is just as stumped as we are. Her delivery is calming and smart, and she asks all the right questions (although the parody that’s going around right now is hilarious and a pretty spot-on impression of her intonation). While we’re on the topic actually, for you fans out there, I also suggest checking out these great charts (thanks for sharing, Dina!).

Want more reasons to listen? The theme music. The editing. The pacing. And the MailChimp ad at the beginning which somehow we’ve all grown to love and look forward to every Thursday morning.

So here is your assignment:
1) Install the Podcast app on your phone.
2) Subscribe to Serial.
3) Download the episodes.
4) Start with Episode 1: The Alibi (note: you definitely want to start at the beginning.).

They’re off this week due to Thanksgiving so it’s the perfect time to start catching up. Go with my blessing, friends. Give thanks, and binge!

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You Should Be Listening To: Dogfight

Dogfight

In the summer of 2012 there was a musical called Dogfight at Second Stage. Based on the movie starring Lili Taylor and River Phoenix, the show didn’t completely work as a whole, but there was plenty to be positive about. With great performances by Lindsay Mendez and Derek Klena (now co-starring as Elphaba and Fiyero in Wicked), Dogfight also featured a new and delightful score by Pasek and Paul. Haven’t heard of them? You will soon.

This young composing team out of University of Michigan has already been making quite a mark. I unfortunately missed their Broadway debut last year with A Christmas Story, for which they received a Tony nomination for Best Score, but luckily, it is back for the holiday season at Madison Square Garden (review coming soon!). Their songs were also featured on Smash (albeit I never made it past episode 3, wah wah). Or perhaps I once forced you to listen to the gorgeousness that is this song. Did you click? You’d best click.

Although Dogfight didn’t make the biggest splash Off-Broadway, the album, released last May, definitely got some well-deserved buzz. Do yourself a favor, look up the show on Spotify, and enjoy the beautiful melodies and tight harmonies. The song on repeat for me? First Date/Last Night. I also love Mendez’s pipes on Before It’s Over. Other catchy tunes include Some Kinda TimeHometown Hero’s Ticker Tape ParadePretty Funny, and Dogfight featuring Tony nominee Annaleigh Ashford who is currently bringing in the laughs at Kinky Boots.

I look forward to hearing what Pasek and Paul write next.


Dogfight
Written by Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, and Peter Duchan, Directed by Joe Mantello
Second Stage Theatre
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Lindsay Mendez and Derek Klena


You Should Be Listening To: Frozen

Frozen
Yes, a new feature! Huzzah! This newly-formed category entitled “You Should Be Listening To” is basically where I tell you about what cast album I’m currently obsessed with, which brings me to our first edition…

Have you seen Frozen yet? It’s the new animated Disney film featuring actual, real voice talent. Unheard of I know. Where’s Russell Crowe as Prince Hans, right? The singers get to speak the roles, too. Crazy talk! The movie broke all kinds of records over Thanksgiving. It grossed $67.4 million over the 3-day weekend, making it the largest opening for a Walt Disney Animation Studios film. It was also the second overall highest in sales for the 5-day weekend after Catching Fire.

The movie is cute and endearing, but what I’m really posting (aka obsessing) about is the music. The nine songs are written by Robert Lopez and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez. You know Robert Lopez’s music if you’re a fan of Avenue Q or The Book of Mormon. The husband-and-wife writing team also penned Finding Nemo – The Musical (now playing at Animal Kingdom!).

So not only do you have Broadway-caliber writers, but as I said above, the characters are voiced by real Broadway talent, many of whom are Tony nominees. The cast includes Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Santino Fontana (this collection of videos is also worth your time), Idina Menzel, and Kristen Bell. I mean, come ON. And yes! Even Kristen Bell was on Broadway (like in the flop, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer)!

Now, my roommate and I are obsessed with all of the songs so go Spotify the soundtrack after you see it. The collection is great. There’s the classic “Be Our Guest”-style group number (“Fixer Upper”), the hopeful ingénue’s number (“For the First Time in Forever”), and the hilarious sidekick tune (“In Summer”). The only crime is Groff doesn’t get a full song. What is that about?

But let me highlight two of the songs. The love song is called “Love Is an Open Door” and is sung by Bell and Fontana. It’s so adorably peppy, full of clever lyrics and melodic surprises, and also manages to poke fun at the form at the same time. Then there is the big power ballad “Let It Go” sung by Menzel. The roomie and I first got a preview of this when we were down in Disney World in November. At Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in Magic Kingdom, there was this epic light show projected on Cinderella’s castle, and we got to see a 30-second preview of this song. I was particularly tickled to hear Idina’s voice ringing out across Disney. She’s come so far!

Now what I’d love to do is link all of these songs so you can hear them, but I’d rather you go check out the movie. I’ll give you one though. I leave you with Let It Go!